Victorian Medical Care

Object 58: A History of Charterhouse in 100 Objects

Neil MacGregor’s History of the World in 100 Objects, based on artefacts in the British Museum and broadcast on BBC Radio 4 as a series of 15 minute talks, captured the imagination of many people. The History of Charterhouse in 100 Objects is based on a similar concept, exploring the artefacts remaining in our Museum store.

This tin chest belonged to Dr Clarence Haig Brown (son of Headmaster William Haig Brown), who was the Medical Officer at Charterhouse for forty years between 1883 and 1923. It contains a wealth of medicines and equipment for treating minor ailments and injuries, all still in their original packaging.

Clarence William Haig-Brown, eldest of the twelve children of Headmaster William Haig-Brown, was educated at Eton and trained as a doctor at Aberdeen University. From there, he went to St Thomas's Hospital, where he won the Cheselden Medal in 1881, and served as House Physician and House Surgeon before taking up his work at Charterhouse in 1883. Dr Clarence lived within easy walking distance of Charterhouse. He visited each House every morning and held daily surgeries in the School medical centre. He was also a private medical practitioner in Godalming, offering a reduced fee of just one shilling to poorer patients who could not have afforded a full medical fee. He retired in 1923, but continued to be ‘Consulting Physician’ at Charterhouse for a further five years. Bodeites Matron, Bland Jameson, recalled that “bluff Dr Clarence Haig-Brown… was always kindly and ready to listen to the details I wanted to give him. I believe his success lay more in his good, frank common-sense than in very clever physiology – but that is my private opinion and I am sure that his blunt advice achieved what was needed nearly every time”.

The original Charterhouse medical centre in Godalming, the ‘Old Sanatorium’, was at No.1 Peperharow Road (now Badgers Hollow and Quayloo). It had beds for thirteen pupils. From 1878 onwards there was a second sanatorium at Uskites, also in Peperharow Road, which held 25 pupils, with a special annexe to isolate Scarlatina cases. The Old Sanatorium was enlarged in 1908 to take 45 beds and Uskites became disused except in the case of emergency.

The main measure taken to prevent common childhood illnesses, such as measles, mumps and scarlatina, was to isolate sufferers in quarantine, hence the need for large numbers of sanatorium beds. Alfred Horsfall (W 1890-1894) wrote to his grandmother from the Sanatorium in 1890:

“I have been here over two weeks on account of scarlatina, but you need not be afraid about this letter, as it is going to be baked and disinfected; I am pretty all right now, (I went out of door for 5 or 10 minutes today, for the first time) and in another week or so shall be quite well. When I have got well, could you please have me for a little time, as the doctor (who bye the bye is a son of Dr Hague Brown) says that I had better not go straight back to school; of course I should not come till I was quite well so there would be no fear of infection.”

The Charterhouse Medical Centre was universally known as ‘Great Comp’ for a century, starting in 1910 when the School bought a private house by that name and converted it into a 25 bed sanatorium with a theatre for surgical operations. The original Great Comp stood on the far side of the Duckites bridge, on the corner of Twycross Road. Infectious cases continued to be isolated in the Old Sanatorium, but all other cases were nursed in Great Comp. The medical centre was moved to Northbrook House in 1956, taking the name “Great Comp” with it. This building continued to be the medical centre until 2009 when two modern houses near the Central Dining Rooms were converted into an up-to-date facility named the Hunt Health Centre.